Motivating by changing the Nature of the Work Environment

Increasingly research on motivation is focused on approaches that link motivational concepts to changes in the way work is structured.

Research in job design provides stronger evidence that the way the elements in a job are organized can act to increase or decrease effort. This research also offers detailed insights into just what those elements are. We’ll first review the job characteristics model and then discuss some ways jobs can be redesigned. Finally, we’ll explore some alternative work arrangements.

The Job Characteristics Model:
The job characteristics model (JCM) propose that any job can be described in terms of five core job dimensions:

(1) Skill variety: The degree to which the job requires a variety of different activities so the worker can use a number of different skills and talent. For instance, an example of a job scoring high on skill variety would be the owner operator of a garage who does electrical repairs, rebuilds engines, does body work, and interacts with customers. A job scoring low on this dimension would be a body shop worker who sprays paint eight hours a day.
(2) Task identity: The degree to which the job requires completion of a whole and identifiable piece of work. An example of a job scoring high on identity would be a cabinet maker who designs a piece of furniture, selects the wood, builds the object, and finishes it to perfection. A job scoring low on the dimension would be a worker in a furniture factory who operates a lathe solely to make table legs.
(3) Task significance: The degree to which the job has a substantial impact on the lives or work of other people. An example scoring high on significance would be a nurse handling the diverse needs of patients in a hospital intensive care unit. A job scoring low on this dimension would be a janitor sweeping floors in the same hospital.
(4) Autonomy: The degree to which the job provides substantial freedom, independence and discretion to the individual in scheduling the work and in determining the procedures to be used in carrying it out. An example of a job scoring high on autonomy is a sales person who schedules his or her own work each day and decides on the most effective sales approach for each customer without supervision. A job scoring low on this dimension would be a sales person who is given a set of leads each day and is required to follow a standardized sales script with each potential customer.
(5) Feedback: The degree to which carrying out the work activities required by the job results in the individual obtaining direct and clear information about the effectiveness if his or her performance. An example of a job with high feedback is a factory worker who assembles iPods and then tests them to see if they operate properly. A job scoring low on feedback would be that same factory worker who, after assembling the iPod, is required to route it to a quality-control inspector who tests it for proper operation and makes needed adjustments.

Note how the first three dimensions – skill variety task identity and task significance combine to create meaningful work. That is, if these three characteristics exist in a job, the model predicts that the incumbent will view the job as being important, valuable and worthwhile. Note that jobs that possess autonomy give job incumbents a feeling of personal responsibility for the results and that if a job provides feedback, employees will know how effectively they are performing. From a motivational standpoint, the JCM says that internal rewards are obtained by individuals when they learn (knowledge of results) that they personally (experienced responsibility) have performed well on a task that they care about (experienced meaningfulness). The more that these three psychological states are present, the greater will be employees’ motivation, performance and satisfaction, and the lower their absenteeism and likelihood of leaving the organization. The links between the job dimensions and the outcomes are moderated or adjusted by the strength of the individual’s growth needs – that is, by the employee’s desire for self esteem and self actualization. This means that individuals with a high growth need are more likely to experience the psychological states when their jobs are enriched than are their counterparts with a low growth need. Moreover, they will respond more positively to the Psychological sates when they re present than will individuals with a low growth need.

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